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AFC chief Bin Hammam keen to mend fences

13 May 2009 05:15

SINGAPORE (AFP) - Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed bin Hammam began his new four-year term as a FIFA executive committee member this week keen to mend fences with his most ardent critics.

But, as the dust settles on one of the most bitter election campaigns seen in football, he insists he will never change his controversial style of leadership.

So disillusioned were almost half of the AFC's 46 member nations in the way the Qatari runs the regional football body that they voted against him last Friday at their congress in a key show of dissent.

They said he was a dictator, that there was no transparency in what he was doing and argued that local football associations were not getting enough money.

At the forefront of the criticism were two powerful and influential men -- FIFA vice-president Chung Mong-Joon and Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president Sheikh Ahmad Al Sabah.

Despite vicious personal attacks on him, Bin Hammam is keen to forgive and forget, conscious that if he doesn't repair the relationships the battle for power will start again ahead of the next congress in two years.

Then, his presidency will be at stake.

"I have no problems with the remarks Chung made," he said, referring to the Hyundai scion publicly declaring Bin Hammam had mental problems and ran the AFC like a criminal.

"Chung is one of the people who I would like to restart relations with for the good of Asia," he added.

Sheikh Ahmad, who also heads the Kuwait Football Association, stepped up his rhetoric after the Qatari accused him and the OCA of vote-buying.

The matter was referred to FIFA's ethics committee but Bin Hammam suggested he was no longer interested in pursuing the claims of corruption, which were denied.

"I'm not going to act as the sport's police for the world," he said.

"I just want to refocus and look forward. It is better for me to leave the past behind and start a new page.

"The past is the past and we all have to think about the future of Asian football from now on."

But he still has some key unresolved business, notably changing the statutes so that the AFC president automatically becomes FIFA vice-president -- a position Chung currently holds.

The AFC and Latin America are the only continental bodies that do not apply this principle and Bin Hammam won support from FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

"Whoever is president of FIFA, it is better for him to have vice presidents as heads of confederations. It is easier to work together and better for the good of the game," said Blatter.

While Bin Hammam wants to build bridges, he insists he will not change the way he does business.

"I am definitely not going to change my style," he said. "I have full democracy and transparency in the way I act as president. I respect the rules."

With the budget for the next four years approved by the congress he will now press on with his vision for the future, which he said had developing the AFC Champions League at its forefront.

Bin Hammam believes that only through improving top level club football will more sponsor money start flowing into the AFC coffers.

The Champions League was revamped this year, expanding from 28 to 32 teams and with stricter participation criteria to raise standards.

At stake is 20 million dollars in prize money, dwarfing the four million available in 2008.

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